Sunday, May 26, 2013

Me versus Almanzo

I've been slacking on updating my blog for the past few months, but recent events have inspired me to write again. Namely, Almanzo. Almanzo is a 100 mile gravel road race held in Spring Valley, MN in May. Now there are dozens of great blogs about other experiences of riding Almanzo, but none of them adequately describe MY experience. Noting the differences between what people take from this event, further adds to the beauty. My laptop is out of commission for the time being, so I don't have pics to upload. The other Almanzo war story blogs have much better pics anyway!

Every Almanzo blog will resonate the same tone, that of thanks. Chris Skogen organized one hell of an event, and not a single person left the start line without a ton of admiration and respect for him. There's nothing more I can say about the guy. A true Minnesota ambassador. Except for that damn Red Sox hat he frequently wears!

I'm not a racer. I ride for the joy of riding. My philosophy when it comes to bike events is simple. Have fun, and don't finish last. When I sent off my postcard registration, I took it quite seriously. I knew it would be the single hardest physical challenge I have faced, and not finishing was not an option. I started watching what I ate and exercising regularly (for the first time in my life), trying to shed a few pounds (lost 15 as of this post!). What I didn't do was train. I rode my Surly Troll more often, as that was my weapon of choice. I didn't prepare with long rides like I should have. Prior to the event, my longest ride this year was 20 miles! I usually ride one century per year, and usually have a couple 50+ mile rides in before the day of the 100 miler. Not this year.

The 5 hour, rainy road trip to Spring Valley with friends was great. We talked bikes and bullshit and tried to make a plan for the ride. We picked a place to camp, and set up for the night. We checked into race registration, enjoyed the pasta dinner, and hit the local liquor store for some tent-side nightcaps.

The tent led to poor sleep. I was worried of continuing rain, awakened by animal noises, and the anxiety of what I was about to do finally hit me. I can ride 100 miles. I've done it a few times, it's not intimidating. But to ride 100 miles...on gravel? I questioned myself. Hills too? Self supported? On most of my organized paved road centuries, there are water stops with snacks every 10 miles. Not Almanzo. I knew at mile 40 I could refill, and maybe again at mile 70, but in my mind, that was it. I prepared myself to ride alone, so I brought 4 water bottles, tons of food, and enough spares to ensure safe return. My bike must have weighed 40 pounds at the start line. Yikes!

The start line packed the streets of downtown Spring Valley with over 950 racers, mostly on lightweight road and cyclocross bikes, mostly with 2 water bottles, and very few had large bags attached to their bikes for food and spares. Were these people foolish? Was I foolish? What have I got myself into?! My anxiety rose as Chris spoke and the countdown to the ride began. And then, we're off! The first few miles flew by, the perfect weather, the large groups of man and machine, the birds chirping. It was pure beauty. I settled into a group and quickly got separated from the friends I had intended to ride with. I ran into a couple familiar faces and had some nice at-speed conversations.  I was feeling great and holding a speed much higher than anticipated. My anxiety was gone and my positivity above the day was at its highest.

And then, the hills. Holy shit. These aren't little rolling hills like I'm barely used to, these are mountains in comparison. After the first big hill, I knew exactly what I was up against, and I slowed down. My goal of having fun would be ruined if I suffered too much. My goal of not finishing last was not as big of a concern as just finishing. I settled into my own groove and just rode. I didn't draft, join pacelines, or employ any other tactics that most of the others were. I rode alone. I'd pass others and get passed myself. I'd try to start conversations with others. Those who were receptive, I'd ride alongside for a mile or two before getting separated again. I had a long day ahead of me so I rode in a manner than would allow me to finish. I laughed at all the water bottles ejected in the road. I wondered if someone would be mad about losing the Rapha branded water bottle I saw. I saw a lot of garbage. Lost cue cards, full and empty gel packs, foil wrappers, and other disgusting acts of taking a race too serious.

My mood changed frequently through the day. At my slow pace I was able to look around. I waved to the cows. I said good morning/afternoon to the farmers I'd see. I'd get thrilled to see cheering spectators. I'd get blown away by the pure beauty of Minnesota. Did Chris chose this route for the scenery? Did he chose this hill out purely for torture? I'd stop to look over a little bridge, or cool rock formation. I took a few pictures and stopped to change cue cards and eat a bit. I tried to maintain intervals on when to drink or eat. I learned how to descend...while descending. I walked up a few hills instead of riding, just to look back and see others doing the same. I would look at my cue cards, look at my watch, and try to figure out what time I'd finish. I thought of the giant cheeseburger and a cold beer that I'd inhale after I finished. Never in my mind did the thought occur that I wouldn't finish. That was huge for me.

The only mechanical problem I had was a loose cleat on my right shoe. My bike did great, although my chain was no longer quiet after 70 miles. The lube had been washed off by the rain on the drive down and I forgot to reapply some. Minor inconvenience, and the sound of gravel under my 2.4" tires drowned out the squeaking. My body was feeling good. My knees and quads weren't bothering me. My butt wasn't sore. My hands were starting to ache, but it was to be expected. I wasn't drinking enough, as I'd still have one full bottle at the 40 and 70 mile water stops. Then mile 75 came.

An oasis in Cherry Grove! The chants of "Cold beer!" and "Rot gut whiskey" were heard from a few blocks away and I had hoped it wasn't a hallucination. Sure enough there was a tent with beer, water, soda, chips, and yes, rot gut whiskey. I enjoyed a cold beer and watched a couple riders bypass the stop, and a watched a couple swig off that whiskey bottle. The differences in cyclists that have joined in this adventure added to the experience. From the shave legged, skin suiting wearing, serious roadies, to the hipsters taking smoke breaks, every stereotype was represented. It was beautiful. It was pure Minnesota. It was something I was proud to be a part of.

I pushed through the last 25 miles, which seemed to take forever. I noticed for a minute that I was no longer having fun and came to a stop. I changed my cue card, ate a fig newton and regrouped. When I started back up, I enjoyed the breeze, and quick conversations with others. I was having fun and I was going to finish the Almanzo. Having seen many people drop out of the race along the route, I knew I wouldn't be last. I debated if I'd ride next year or not. I debated why I didn't ride it last year. I was proud of myself for my ability, for both being able to stay positive mentally and to endure physically. I crossed the finish line to the sound of cheering people, got a congratulatory handshake, and ended with a time of 10 hours and 47 minutes, in 718th place. Considering over 1300 registered, and over 950 people started, not bad for me! I was thrilled to have not only finishing the hardest thing I've ever done, but to walk away with a renewed sense of being. My love of Minnesota was renewed. My love for riding was renewed. My belief in positive thinking had paid off, and that giant cheeseburger and cold beer hit the spot.

I am thankful this event exists. I'm very thankful my family supports my cycling. I'm thankful I have friends that say "let's do Almanzo". But most of all I'm thankful for all the memories that I will carry with me after that day. Thanks Chris!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meet Supertramp!

Been too busy riding this thing to blog about it! Here's my 2013 Surly Troll, aka "Supertramp". Why Supertramp? Well the band Supertramp from the 70s had some great songs, my favorite of which is "Take the long way home". This bike is all about doing just that. Adventuring, getting lost, and "hey what's down there" kind of riding. Also, I started building this on September 6th, which is the 20th anniversary of the discovery of Christopher McCandless' body. Morbid? A little. Christopher McCandless inspired the book/movie "Into the Wild", which is a great (real) tale of adventure. Chris' alias throughout his travels was "Alexander Supertramp". Enough of the nicknames, here's the bike.

The Build was a parts bin-budget build using some parts from my Pugsley (Pugs got upgrades!), parts from the forums, and stuff from the LBS.

Wheelset: Handbuilt Shimano M529 hubs, DT butted spokes, Stan's Flow rims (decals removed)
Tires: Continental XKing 2.4, tubeless
Crankset: Old LX triple
Derailleurs: LX rear, XT front
Shifters: Microshift Thumbies
Brakes: BB7
Misc: Salsa Stem, Mary bars, Race Face post, Selle Italia saddle
Cables: Jagwire Ripcord in Ergon Green
Headset: FSA Orbit
Pedals: Gusset Pinhead
Bags: Relevate Designs Tangle and Gas Tank
On pace to have 200 miles on it in the first month, which will be a record for any bike I've owned. This bike is ridiculously fun and comfortable. I can't wait to take it out of town and get lost for the day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another one?!

Adding a new bike to my stable, this one has big shoes to fill. I looked at my current bikes and tried to find something to fill in the gaps. Not wanting to have overlap, I chose the biggest gaps to fill.

1) Gravel. None of my bikes would inspire me to ride gravel all day.
2) Lock it up. None of my bikes would I want to scratch up/trust having locked up.
3) Ice. My Pugsley does great in the snow, but its encounters with ice usually knock me on my ass.
4) Braze-ons. The more, the better. Racks, bottle cages, anything cages, fenders, etc.
5) Disc Brakes. Winter/wet commuting is a lot safer with discs.
6) Enjoyment. Something that begs to be ridden, far and/or anywhere.
7) Not too pretty. See rule #2.

So looking at this list had me torn between a couple choices, either build something new like a Salsa Fargo or Surly Ogre, or find a nice old mountain bike and build it up my way. The problem with the Fargo is that it's "too nice", and it wouldn't meet rule #2. The problem with the Ogre is that it's the same geometry as the Surly Karate Monkey (which I've had, and don't like), and the curvy seat tube. The seat tube limits how far the seat can go down, therefore my wife couldn't ride it.

The old mountain bike idea is solid, and a popular choice among commuters, but it doesn't meet rules #5 or #6. Plus doing what I want to it would far exceed the value of the bike.

So enter the Surly Troll. Revised for 2013, this frame has a ton of #4's. Having seen their capability up close (read the blog!). This bike meets all 6 requirements and then some.

When the new frames became available, I quickly ordered one and a ton of parts. This build is going to be ugly. In a good way. Using most of the parts I have laying around from other bikes, and some used ones from the bike forums. There will be no being careful with wrenches, if it gets scratched, so be it. I may even take the decals off. Surly frames are built so well, that if I want to gussy it up years from now, I can re-powdercoat it and add new decals. This should be fun, assuming the rest of my parts come in...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cuyuna: The Hype is Real

I was switching the Black Floyd slick tires off of my Surly Pugsley this evening to put the knobby tires back on. My shirt and hands turned a lovely rust color....

2 weekends ago I headed up to Crosby, MN for an IMBA (International Mountain Biking Association) Trail Building School. Crosby is where the Cuyuna State Recreation Area is, and it is absolutely mountain bike heaven. The hype is definitely real. Every blog, article, forum post you've ever read about it is absolutely true. Crosby and its neighboring town of Ironton were mining communities in the early 1900s, and what is now "Cuyuna" is built upon the tailings of the mines. The beautiful tire staining rust is iron ore, or what the locals call "Cuyuna Gold".

Beyond the draw of this park, the town itself is incredible. It's vibrant and thriving. Unlike many of the communities I drove through to get to Crosby, this town is hoppin'! Bike racks everywhere, people window shopping, old couples holding hands on the sidewalk. The trails have completely revitalized this community. I was blown away by the positive impact mountain biking can have. This town is a treasure! Beautiful scenery, expertly built trails, and something for everyone.

Now something for everyone would include beginners, and I had thoughts of bringing my family there to go riding, so I went and rode "Boot Camp" and "Easy Street". These are the easiest trails out of the 25 miles of singletrack that Cuyuna has to offer. These trails were every bit of fun as the harder trails! Super flowy with just enough twists, turns, and grade changes to make it "beginner" friendly but still a blast for those who have more advanced skills.

I ended up riding about 16 miles before packing it up and heading back to Crosby for dinner. After 3 hours of riding, I was tired, thirsty, and hungry! I stopped at the "Ya Betcha Bar and Grill" for an awesome burger and a frosty pint of Arrogant Bastard ale.

Bikes, Burgers, and Beer. Yup, Crosby has it all. Go and enjoy it!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Century Time

Yesterday I rode the 2012 Tour de Cure in Fargo. Finished with 102.1 miles on the day.

The weather was nasty, started rainy and somewhat chilly. Then lots of wind came to dry things out. For a while there we had a nice tailwind and were cruising well over 20mph for a stretch, but that was quickly negated by 25+mph headwinds that had us crawling at 11mph.  All in all though it was a good ride and it was nice to raise money for charity again.

My new Cannondale Synapse proved to be a good choice. Nice and comfortable just responsive when I wanted it to be. Really liking this bike so far, and it has less than 300 miles on it! Hoping to get the odometer over 700 or so by summer's end.

Friday, May 4, 2012


You know it's strange to be affected when a celebrity dies. Very rarely do I actually feel a "loss" when I read the news of a familiar name passes. Today is different. It's Adam Yauch, or "MCA". A voice that repeats often in my memory. When "License to Ill" dropped in 1986, I was 8 years old. I remember watching the "Fight for your right" video on MTV (Yes I remember when MTV actually planned music videos!) and wanting to throw an awesome party. I remember playing "Paul Revere" over and over in my pre-teen years and hiding it, like I would know I would get in trouble for listening to "that" kind of music. Middle school dances, High school parties, and even into my 30's, the Beastie Boys have been a part of my life. Random one liners from their list of songs frequently get repeated in my dialog, and I can still act a fool and nod my head to the beat of "Root Down" at a moment's notice. Today I feel the loss of a voice of my generation, and I can't help but be thankful to have the songs of the Beastie Boys be a part of my life. Much love and respect to Adam Yauch. Thanks for the jams. God just passed you the mic.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I feel weird

I drove two days in a row this week. I haven't done that in a long time. The wind was blowing up to 50mph, which is beyond insane to be out on a bike in. Considering that my Father-In-Law's Jeep has been sitting in my driveway for a couple months without moving, it was an easy out. The Jeep needed to move, and I needed a ride. Without inconveniencing my wife, I had a way to get to work that didn't involve my normal backup plan. My feet. I feel dirty. I'm gonna hide the keys now.

Speaking of my feet, I gave into coworker peer pressure and registered for a 5k. I'm not a runner. In fact, I hate running. I've always hated it, even since middle school. I've never been athletic, so running is truly foreign to me. But I need to change my exercise habits to include things other than cycling. This challenge is proving to be a welcomed one. My first attempts feel very odd, but I can concentrate on my form and do my best to learn "the right way".

Driving? Running? WTF is happening?! Weirdness I say.